How Five Startups Responded to Economic Upheaval

In our latest edition of Startups to Watch, we look at how the pandemic has transformed five venture capital–backed companies, from nascent businesses to more mature startups including Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global.
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This article originally appeared on The Information on July 6, 2020. Read the full story here.

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the tech startup landscape, driving some companies out of business and pushing others to the brink. Yet some firms that make products suited to remote working and social distancing have seen their sales rise sharply. Other companies have managed to quickly reconfigure their operations to support new customers and provide services useful during the crisis.

Uplevel

Founders: Joe Levy, David Youssefnia, Ravs Kaur, Dave Matthews

Funding Raised: $7.5 million

Investors: Norwest Venture Partners, Madrona Venture Group, Voyager Capital 

Why It Made the List: While Uplevel only launched six months ago, prominent funders and a significant early fundraising immediately lifted the profile of the maker of productivity-tracking software.

Uplevel, a Seattle-based startup that launched in January, sells subscription-based software that lets engineers keep track of how interruptions from colleagues are affecting their day-to-day productivity.

While similar tools exist for other types of workers, such as salespeople and marketing staff, Uplevel specifically focuses on software engineers. Joe Levy, CEO of Uplevel and one of the company’s four co-founders, says engineers require significant amounts of “deep focus time” to handle tasks like scanning through thousands of lines of code to find bugs. 

The collaborative nature of software development inside many companies means engineers are often interrupted by questions and requests from colleagues. “It typically takes half an hour for an engineer to get into a ‘flow state’ of thinking. If someone interrupts you, it might take another 30 minutes to get into that state,” Levy said. 

Uplevel’s software gathers anonymized data about an engineer’s daily usage of tools like Slack, Microsoft Teams, GitHub and Atlassian’s Jira, software for managing team projects. By comparing that data with an engineer’s daily work calendar, Uplevel can show engineers all the instances where interruptions from colleagues disrupted their work. 

“If you were doing lengthy responses to incoming requests, and you started engaging in paragraphs of back-and-forth dialogue, we will count that as an interruption,” Levy said. 

Uplevel packages its analysis in an emailed report that uses a scoring system to show how engineers spent their time the previous day. Developers can use the scores to alter their own patterns of responding to incoming messages, while managers can use them to track the productivity of teams compared with the overall company average.

It could be that managers appreciate the software more than their employees, who might feel like it is tracking their every move. But Levy said Uplevel isn’t designed to monitor individuals in this way. “The platform is designed to show trend data that managers can and should address to run engaged, effective teams,” he said. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, and the resulting shift to working from home, Uplevel paused existing development work to focus on building new features, including ones that measure contributions to projects and participation in meetings. Uplevel also added metrics to let engineers track how much time they are working in order to avoid burnout, according to Levy.

—Kevin McLaughlin